Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Taming the Beast

By Hannah

Every writer is fascinated by other writers' habits, let's confess, because we want to know how to tame this Beast of sorts we've found in our lives.

I am an extremely structured writer. Someone taught me to speed read in first grade. Bad educational experiment, but I do research in a snap. Outlines, key points, phrases my clients use, all come together into their finished products.

I write for them in the morning. The house has to be quiet. I need enough but not too much caffeine, cereal, and orange juice. I read the newspaper, check Web sites, throw in laundry. No meetings on the calendar, so I can let rip for two or three hours at a time. I follow a similar routine after lunch.

Did I mention these fabulous habits work only when writing for other people? Because for me, the Beast of Fiction is a completely different animal.

This Beast can demand attention before breakfast. Before coffee. I have missed lunch. I’ve written when I should have been making dinner. All I need is a good half hour. I’ll lie in bed, drift off, only to have the Beast nudge me with an idea. A small notebook in my backpack handbag, lying next to a pen, is filled with children’s doodles of flowers and graffiti lettering and directions for character action, circled and question-marked.

My Beast doesn’t mind noise. It has withstood test alarms for the local nuclear power plant. If my characters are ready to move, if I am in the story, I can write with one child playing drums and the other singing Broadway tunes.

Then again, my Beast will hide, leaving my head and the screen empty. I have not yet tamed this one; but I have gotten better about coaxing it. I set aside time, have coffee at the ready, turn off the stereo. I type a sentence or two, erase, retype. I go for a walk or do an errand and think about my story, and everything and nothing, hoping the Beast will believe itself ignored and will stick its nose out into the air. I do this sometimes for hours, for days. It is alive, there in its lair, and given steady encouragement, it eventually has no choice. It rustles, sniffs the coffee and roars.

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